The Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society's 18 inaugural research initiatives engage teams of faculty from across the university, including the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions, the Chicago Booth School of Business, the Divinity School, the Law School, the Pritzker School of Medicine, and the Oriental Institute, in exploring complex questions beyond the scope of individual researchers or disciplines. The Neubauer Collegium provides funding and infrastructure for Large-scale Collaborative Projects, Seed Projects, and Visiting Fellows, and supports efforts to disseminate the results of these collaborations to the wider world.
Since the Renaissance, many scholars have overlooked the formative role our bodies play in shaping our minds, ignoring the influence that our movements have on our thinking and creative processes. But over the last several years, research in psychology, linguistics, and human development suggest that it is difficult to disentangle the workings of our minds from our physical sensations, leading to a new way of thinking about embodied cognition and changing how we think about learning and performing. This three-year project explores the relation between action, gesture, and sign language in order to develop a more nuanced, and theoretically motivated, understanding of how our bodies impact our minds and the minds of others. This project is core to the formative stage of a new Center for Gesture, Sign, and Language at the University of Chicago designed to provide a home for collaborations between members of the departments of Psychology, Linguistics, and Comparative Human Development, and to catalyze new collaborations with scholars interested in the performing arts.
The Game Changer Chicago (GCC) Design Lab is an emerging and experimental collaboration between faculty in English/Media Studies and the Biologic Sciences Division. This project, which sits within the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health, explores how transmedia games and digital media open new paths to emotional and social health learning. The GCC Design Lab critically engages central theoretical questions in the digital humanities, new media studies, and the arts, while simultaneously offering new opportunities to study social systems related to sexuality, gender, reproductive health, and structural inequalities in urban communities. How can digital media and games augment reality to create different kinds of social encounters? How do new technologies make possible open-ended, multi-authored, and non-linear forms of storytelling? How can these modes of storytelling best be deployed in practice? This three-year project brings together scholars and practitioners in creative writing, new media studies, theater, education, social services, and medicine to foster experimental intersections between practice and theory (and practice as theory) while addressing pressing concerns in adolescents’ decisions about sexual and reproductive health. Building on two years of successful work, the GCC Design Lab creates space for hands-on experimentation and project development, fostering theoretical and practical insights into emerging literary and artistic forms.
Since the University’s inception, Chicago faculty have been pioneers in the study of the ancient world’s literary heritage, including the founding of modern scientific study of writing systems. Signs of Writing is a three-year research project designed to investigate, from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, the cultural and social contexts and structural properties of the world’s oldest writing systems – the world’s first information revolution. Particular emphasis is placed on the four primary, or pristine, writing systems from Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, and Mesoamerica, looking at the similarities and differences in the archaeological and paleographic records across regions and the psycho-linguistic processes by which humans first made language visible. Annual conferences and short- and long-term visiting scholars will integrate research from a wide range of disciplines. Organized broadly around the linguistic, social, and cultural contexts of early writing, the project will concern itself with a broad range of topics, including the origins and structure of writing systems, the relationship between speech and writing, reading and cognition, the adaptation of writing systems and bilingualism, scribal transmission and education, literacy, the materiality and archaeological contexts of writing, and the rise of literature.
As the state’s role has diminished in the face of privatization and globalization, from multiple directions there has been a resurgence of interest in forms of governance and organized power that do not resemble the unified sovereign state that is at the center of dominant scholarly traditions of political analysis and theory. This wave of empirical inquiry and theoretical debate is visible across history, sociology, and political science, spurring multiple forms of cross-disciplinary collaboration. This project aims to fuse these collaborations toward a focused and generative debate on the State as History and Theory. What is necessary is a reconciling of the realistic institutional paradigm predominating in the scholarship on the state with the requirements of everyday politics and democratic political theory – in short, a theory of the democratic state. University of Chicago faculty in history, law, political science, and sociology will cohere as a group around the year-long visit of Steve Sawyer from The American University of Paris, who will help sharpen and focus the group’s efforts to produce a new political theory of the democratic state.
Current trends in post-colonial studies, indigenous archaeology, archaeological ethnography, and in the anthropology/history border-zone, indicate the emergence of an as-yet unarticulated new research orientation: the anthropology of history. This project, conceived in collaboration with Charles Stewart (University College London) engages faculty and visitors in anthropology, history, philosophy, and Divinity to synthesize and theorize the comparative ethnographic and historical study of the diverse means by which people gain knowledge of the past – matters of concern not only for numerous social science and humanities disciplines, but also for society more generally as the West begins to reflect upon the circumscribed operating sphere of its putatively universal truths and the concrete policy, legal, and cultural implications of acknowledging both non-Western historicizing practices and Western ways of relating to the past that do not conform to the standards or concerns of disciplinary history.
An exploration of how the methods of “big science” might elucidate and facilitate the humanistic understanding of music, speech, and other audio expressions, the one-year Audio Cultures of India project will deploy data mining and computational pattern analysis techniques common to the physical and biological sciences to produce a sound history of modern India. Drawing on vast digital corpora already hosted at the University of Chicago Library, this project will bring together faculty and students from music, anthropology, the Computational Institute, Argonne National Laboratory, and the Library to identify and experiment with new methods for using scientific technologies to process large digital humanities databases. The dense performative culture that characterizes India will receive special attention in an attempt to develop a comparative framework for understanding historical interrelations in the aural world – a sound history of modern India.
Bringing together historians, geographers, anthropologists, environmental artists, and security and science studies experts, the three-year Engineered Worlds project offers a significant re-theorization of security in light of the cumulative global environmental effects of industry. The impacts of human industrial activity – extreme weather, rising oceans, changing habitats, shifting food sources, and new health challenges – render problematic the longstanding nature-culture binary that has shaped science studies and cultural anthropology. To understand these impacts, we need new concepts of security that are adequate to the problem of a radically changing biosphere. Through a series of co-taught seminars with visiting scholars, a spring conference, and public arts exhibitions, this project considers how ecologies are “engineered” or “designed”, intentionally and unintentionally, by industrial practices, and focuses local and invited expertise toward the creation of a new critical theory that can address “post-nature” politics.
Global Literary Networks is a two-year digital humanities research project that examines the production, diffusion, and reception of literature on a macro-interpretative scale using tools of network analysis and network visualization. Combining large datasets, social scientific methods, and textual close reading, this project investigates the social dimensions of modernist literary history and aesthetics in the twentieth century by de-framing traditional literary categories – such as influence and dissemination – and introducing and adapting new categories from other disciplines. Using modernist poetry from the United States as the starting point, the project branches out to Japan, China, and Latin America to track the relation between modernist poetic activities in different national contexts. The project brings together theoreticians and technicians from literary studies, sociology, computer science, statistics, and visual design to explore new approaches to the analysis, preservation, and presentation of “big data”; new media platforms for processing, displaying, and disseminating digitally inflected work; and team-based scholarship.
This project aims to strengthen and consolidate an emerging program cluster on Health and Human Rights by engaging faculty in the humanities and the Pritzker School of Medicine to address fundamental questions underlying the notion of health as a human right. Many things have been claimed to be a human right, a claim that indicates great moral significance, asserts heightened stakes, and calls for swift and decisive remedy. But which elements of health and health care qualify as a human right? Philosophers and practitioners approach these questions from distinct viewpoints. This project seeks greater precision on the application of human rights concepts to health and health care, including a philosophically-grounded position on the question of who has the obligation to meet health care human rights.
Three decades of war and external pressure in Iraq have led to the decimation of its university system and its intellectuals. What does it mean to be a scholar at war? Is humanistic inquiry during wartime possible? How has this downfall of Iraq’s domestic university-level intellectual class – professors and university researchers – affected the country’s social, military, and political spheres? These questions form the core of a yearlong analysis of Iraq’s intellectual landscape since the start of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, carrying the narrative through the sanctions period and 2003 invasion to the present day. The destruction of Iraq’s academic class has been an underreported yet grave phenomenon that holds serious implications for the country’s – and the region’s – future. This project represents an effort to capture this history through first-hand accounts, by interviewing Iraqi university professors and research in Iraq and in diaspora, to establish an audio archive of these stories at the University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center, and to publish an analysis on the demise of Iraq’s intellectual class.
The Voice – or simply voice – has been the vector of numerous questions, philosophical, theoretical, medial, and material, that have pressed on current-day disciplines in the humanities and social sciences such as performance studies, film and media studies, philosophies of language and the body, phenomenology, gender studies, psychology, literary studies, anthropology, biology, and neuroscience. Over the last twenty years, these questions have formed part of a broader tendency away from textual orientations and metaphysical philosophies toward the material and embodied nature of voice. They have also swept in new media and technologies that have profoundly affected artistic expression, our sense of living in our bodies, and our attempts to measure, fix and stabilize them. This project aims to refine a long-term research agenda that spans disciplines and arts practice to develop a new critical theory of the voice.
What are Arab Jewish Texts? Texts and Questions of Context
This project, organized by University of Chicago professor of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations Orit Bashkin in partnership with Walid Saleh from the University of Toronto, explores the ways in which Jewish political thought and literature were transformed in the medieval and modern periods as a result of their interactions with Muslim and Arab cultures. Organized around themes of the Arab Jewish imaginary, printed Arab Jewish cultures, and construction of the Arab Jewish self, the collaboration will engage historians and literary scholars, novelists, and poets from the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East for an intensive three-day conference in spring 2014 with the goal of publishing an anthology of translated and original works of literature by, and about, Jews who lived in Muslim societies, and to examine whether such a collection, and the categories the conveners propose, make sense in the state of the field of Middle Eastern studies today.
Emerging around a coalescence of research interests in the comparative economic analysis of historical societies from ancient times to the modern period, the project for a Working Group on Comparative Economics brings together faculty from Classics, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, Anthropology, Economics, History, Political Science, and the Booth School of Business for a two-year program of activities. Monthly faculty meetings, quarterly visiting lecturers, and an annual conference will address themes of shared interest in comparative economics, including the structure of economic firms, taxation, long-distance trade, forms and uses of money, and the economics of slavery. Activities are designed to clarify conceptual and empirical issues in a way that will promote and enrich cross-disciplinary faculty research, and quickly disseminate results through e-publication of a new working paper series.
Working Group on Political Theology
Andreas Glaeser, Cliff Ando, Julie Cooper, Michèle Lowrie, William Mazzarella, John McCormick, Omar McRoberts, Paul Mendes-Flohr, Eric Santner, Lisa Wedeen, Eric Slauter
Scholarly literature suggests two reasons for the recent re-emergence of political theology across the social sciences and humanities, challenging what many thought was an outdated modality of inquiry. The first is a growing concern that the practical and theoretical subordination of politics to a service function for markets, which goes hand in hand with an isolation of individuals, deprives human beings of their potential to shape their future in collaboration with others. The second is a suspicion that the research orientation of much contemporary social science remains beholden to a positivist epistemology that can only describe and analyze what already exists and thus (at least unwittingly) supports the subordination of politics by underplaying the creative potential of human beings to reimagine more satisfying lives in the company of others. Political theology promises to address these concerns by wondering about the orientation of politics to guiding values, and by searching for enduring historical influence of theological ideas on political concepts and the formation of political institutions. This project brings faculty from classics, political science, sociology, anthropology, divinity, Germanic studies, and English together with invited visiting scholars for bi-weekly workshops to define and refine a coherent agenda for a long-term, trans-disciplinary research project on political theology.
A Worldwide Literature: Jāmī (1414-1492) in the Dar al-Islam and Beyond
This one-year seed project aims to develop and articulate a long-term research agenda that would fill a massive lacuna in modern scholarship on transformative intellectual trends in the post-classical Muslim intellectual tradition by studying the reception of the works of polymath ‘Abd al-Rahmān Jāmī (1414-1492), one of the most widely read authors in the Eurasian continent between his lifetime and the early modern period. Ambitious in its theoretical aims and grounded in creative philological approaches, this project endeavors to provide answers to crucial questions largely neglected by Islamic historiography. Seed funding will afford the principal organizers the opportunity to develop further programs that would bring visiting scholars to campus to catalyze a cross-disciplinary working group and prepare a digital collection and searchable corpus of Unicode texts comprising Jāmī’s works along with the Indian commentaries published by Naval Kishore in the nineteenth century.
Cinemetrics Across Boundaries: A Collaborative Study of Montage
Cinemetrics is an open-access interactive website designed to collect, store, and process scholarly data about films. Launched in 2005 as a digital tool to facilitate the analysis of film editing, in the few years of its existence Cinemetrics has grown into an interdisciplinary forum on experimental methods in cinema studies, used regularly by hundreds of researchers from around the globe. Yet, although Cinemetrics provides an intense environment for online trafficking of data and ideas, its future as a field in Humanities depends on face-to-face gathering of regular Cinemetrics contributors and principal collaborators in statistics and cultural production, and a thoughtful study of its place in the field. A conference and collaborative meetings are two directions in which the project will move. The Neubauer Collegium will bring Michael John Baxter from Nottingham Trent University (UK) for short-term visits and lectures on the use of state-of-the-art statistics in modern film studies, and Daria Khitrova, a specialist in poetry and dance with more recent stakes in film studies, from UCLA, to contribute knowledge from other meter-driven arts such as music, poetry, and dance. Their collaboration aims to produce a book volume on Cinemetrics as an emerging field of film studies.
History-writing in China often strikes U.S. readers as nationalistic and therefore “out of step” with Euro-American common practice. Our assumption is rather that the historiographic conventions differ, and require a reading that engages, as do Chinese humanists, with philosophical questions drawn from both Chinese and non-Chinese traditions. Among the profound, long-term social particularities of the Chinese intelligentsia are an appreciation of philology and a ready circulation among disciplines usually kept separate in our academy: history, aesthetics, and metaphysics. We locate the maximal contrast in styles of understanding history in the currently-influential scholarly movement known as “New National Studies” (Xin Guoxue). By engaging Chinese scholars through an on-going series of short-term visiting scholarships, this project will sharpen our understanding of humanities and social scientific research being conducted in China today and help University of Chicago scholars reflect on the protocols and implicit frontiers of their own arguments.
A project of the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society, in partnership with the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry
Since Pablo Picasso’s inclusion of oil cloth and rope in his Still-Life with Chair Caning (1912), and Marcel Duchamp’s attachment of a bicycle wheel on a stool for his first assisted ready-made (1913), the diversity of materials used in art making has exploded. Nothing, perhaps, distinguishes 20th-century art more from prior art than its materials. Yet their significance – if, when, and how these materials matter and mean – has not been seriously addressed in art history. Such an effort entails, for example, considering a material’s exact scientific make up, its nature as shapeable matter or found commodity, its historical and cultural meanings or transcendence thereof, its tactile as opposed to merely visual appeal or use, its manner of being worked, its existence in time and possible demise, its function in shaping and withdrawing monetary or cultural value, and its very role in shaping the identity and definition of art. This surprising lacuna results most obviously from the peculiar conjunction of discipline-specific and interdisciplinary expertise required to address these issues. This two-year project will bring New York based conservator Christian Scheidemann to the University of Chicago campus for a series of engagements with a growing number of local scholars interested in the materials of modern and contemporary art. A leading conservator of contemporary art, Scheidemann is the only one in the world who has built his expertise on art made from non-traditional materials. A scholar who, in his publications, draws on his art historical training, intellectual breadth, and conservation experiences, Scheidemann is also a practitioner in the sense that he restores art, halts or slows its aging process, or advises not to intervene, but also in the sense that he consults and collaborates with artists who work with unusual materials.
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